Relevant . . . or Irrelevant?

I ended my last post with the confession that I was “scared to death.” There is such nuance buried in those three little words. Today we’re on the threshold of a move that has been about 7 years in the making. Here’s a bit of the back story . . .

Sherry and I began this journey decades ago, committing our lives to the One greater than us—thinking then that we had fully abandoned ourselves to His care and cause.

I threw around words easily and quickly. I sang worship songs proclaiming my love, loyalty and allegiance to a God I then carefully allowed only into protected areas of my life. Over the course of many years, and in the midst of a busy life and career, I lost sight of what it meant to be truly abandoned to Jesus. My “relationship” with Him informed only some of my emotions, choices, decisions and actions. And yet, most people who knew me would have likely said I was a “good Christian.” The horrific reality was that I meandered into—without realizing it—the worship of a god and faith, essentially of my own making; a god whose job I saw as blessing me, protecting me, taking away my hurts, and insuring my place in heaven. In fact, nearly all of my faith was about . . . me.

I had slowly, unwittingly, yet willingly offered myself as prey to the seductive, paralyzing scourge of loving this world. From the outside, I looked just like so many others around me, men who were good, honest and “god-fearing.” Some called upon the same faith as mine while others made no such declaration. Some were in the church and some not; yet there was virtually no difference between us. I was stunned to realize that the faith I claimed to follow did little to set me apart from those who claimed no faith at all.

It wasn’t surprising then, to look in the mirror and see someone affluent (especially compared to 2/3 of the rest of the world), comfortable, arrogant, and to those outside my own orbit, irrelevant. If I represented what a good Christian looked like, it’s no wonder our young people are leaving the church in droves! Tragically, with good Christians like me as a model, I fully understand why they are abandoning a Christianity that to them is irrelevant.

Fast forward 7 years; last night we bought our tickets—one-way tickets—for Uganda. We’re now officially committed, leaving January 4th at 10 am, headed to Entebbe, unsure when we’ll be coming back. Not that I’m counting or anything, but that’s only 55 days away, or about 7 ½ weeks. Time is now screaming by, leaving a trail of myriad tiny details clamoring for resolution, and conspiring to keep us from people we’d like to see and things we’d like to finish before we leave. Please pray with us for consistency between what we say and how we live our lives!

Uganda, Here We Come!

It’s finally here. We’ve been praying, planning, training, waiting, talking, learning and wondering. Now we’re finally heading out. Our departure date looks to be the first week of January, 2011. You’ll recall (or see from my previous few posts) that I was in Bolivia for two months this past summer, learning the nuances of – and getting experience in – hand-drilling water wells. Water For All, International (WFA), the folks with whom I was in Bolivia, have invited us to become their point people in an effort to begin a new well-drilling movement in northern Uganda! Because a well-drilling movement isn’t something that occurs in a short-term trip (or trips), Sherry and I are planning a 6-month (or so) first trip, and then an ongoing focus on the people, language and culture in the place from which we believe the movement can grow. Let me explain . . .

We’ll begin in a town named Soroti, in partnership with a local non-profit called Global Care. Global Care currently operates out of several locations in Uganda, sponsoring children, working in schools, focusing on school drop-outs with micro-businesses and vocational skills, and hopes to expand into working with handicapped and other poor and marginalized children in Soroti. They have asked WFA for help in securing wells that will bring regular clean water to kids and families within their local sphere of influence. My first job will be to help them with 8 new wells.

Now, when it comes to creating a “well-drilling movement,” it becomes paramount that our (well) trials are successful – meaning that the locations in which we drill have a high potential for success. By success, I mean that at least 9 times out of 10 we get good wells that produce somewhere around 20-25 liters/minute of clean water. This is obviously the “textbook version,” and reality (or Terry Waller, Exec. Director of WFA) may dictate some adjustments, but that’s the goal at which we’re aiming, both for WFA and for the wells on which we’re partnering with Global Care!

Because of the long-term focus of initiating a well-drilling movement, we can’t say for certain – until we’re there and on the ground for some time – that Soroti is the best place from which that movement can begin. Thus it is difficult to know whether Soroti will be the location from which this work will build in Uganda.

Now, having given you all the “data” about what’s happening, let me tell you how I really feel about it . . . it kind of scares me to death. I believe without a shadow of doubt that this is something we’re called to do; but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m convinced that WFA is the perfect organization through which I can utilize both my gifts and the education and training I’ve accumulated over the past 7 years; but there isn’t a “career path” or retirement plan. In fact, we’re “volunteers,” investing in eternity – and utterly dependent upon the One Who controls our account in the Bank of Heaven. Thanks for being interested enough to read this far!

Water For All, International Well Clubs

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I’ve spent most of this week at Terry’s house, resting my back, which I tweaked again, but thankfully is almost back to normal now. As I’m writing this post, we have 4 well clubs working, with another ready to begin drilling next Tuesday or Wednesday. Speaking of well clubs, here’s the basic structure on how Water For All (WFA) well clubs operate:

1. Someone in a community says they want a well.

2. WFA encourages them to get 9 more people in their community who also want a well, which then forms a “well club.” They elect a president, a treasurer and a “driller,” who becomes the club’s resident expert on this type of well drilling – and who will be the one to actually drill and supervise the last 8 wells to be completed. Actually, everyone in the club gets trained, but the driller becomes the leader of the work. They also determine among themselves the order in which the 10 wells for the club will be drilled. The final thing they do is an actual written request for the wells, signed by each of the club members, essentially co-guaranteeing participation (because it truly requires 10 workers to do the wells) and authorized by a recognized community leader.

3. Each of the 10 families raises $100, unless they’re so desperately poor they can’t – in which case WFA may allow them to raise less and subsidize the balance of the cost. It’s critical though, that they participate in the cost.

4. Once the families in the club have raised all the money, someone from WFA goes to the market with them, never handling their money, instructing them on all the supplies needed for ALL 10 of the wells.

5. The supplies get delivered to the club President’s location and we set up for the first well.

6. Someone from WFA goes to the first well site and begins the process of instructing the club on how THEY will drill their own wells. Then, we show them the entire process for the first and second wells only, working alongside them (which is what I’ll be doing in Africa), teaching and mentoring the technology officer on how to drill in their specific location.

7. We turn them loose to finish ON THEIR OWN, the last 8 wells.

8. We start the process all over again with another new well club!

How amazing is this???

Santos’ New Well

This is Santos, washing his hands with water pumped for the first time (at over 5 gallons/min!) from HIS OWN new well, which Water For All (WFA) taught HIM to drill; today we helped him complete the pump installation, and he will now be the pump installation “expert” for his water club (of 4 more wells). See if you can imagine with me just a couple ways in which life might look different for Santos and his family, now that they have essentially unlimited access to safe, clean, cool water from their 146 foot (45 meters) deep well.
They have unlimited, safe, clean, cool water for drinking and cooking. Until now, they drank from and cooked with contaminated pond water or from jerry cans carried back and forth from the community well, ½ mile away. The community well water is probably clean, but there’s been no way for them to keep the containers clean. Imagine the health implications.
They can bathe. Until now, they climbed into bed every night, unwashed, wearing the same clothes to bed they’d worked in for days if not weeks or even months. When was the last time you climbed into bed, in dirty clothes, without bathing – simply because there wasn’t water to do so?
His wife can wash their clothes at home whenever they are dirty. Until now, she had to carry them the ½ mile to the community well, waiting in line for access to the pump along with all the other villagers, washing by hand in one bucket, rinsing in another; then she had to wait for them to dry on the fences or bushes around the well, and finally, after at least 2-4 hours, carry them the ½ mile back home. No wonder clothes got washed infrequently.
Santos paid $100 for this well. It is scandalous that people still live this way when clean, safe water is so available. Sherry and I will be heading to Africa somewhere around the first of next year to begin the process of finding more folks like Santos and his family, who have been marginalized, forgotten and with no hope or dream they could ever have unlimited access to safe water. Thanks for coming along with us on the journey!

Sidelined in Bolivia . . . for a couple of days

Wednesday morning. Woke up today feeling like someone stabbed me during the night, over and over in one spot just to the side of my spine at about L5-S1. Over the years, I’ve dealt with back pain like many people my age (which is none of your business), but have been really fortunate not to have experienced it for a good long time. I think shoveling mud and sand yesterday with awkward tools from awkward positions (trying to stay out of as much mud as possible) was the final blow in a series of tiny “tweaks” to which I’ve subjected my body lately. Its funny; I thought I’d get sick from the water in the bush, or the bacteria on the hands of the gracious peasant women (who haven’t had sufficient water to bathe, and you can only imagine where those hands have been) preparing meals at the well sites, or drinking “refrescos” made with questionable water, or eating from bowls and utensils that have been shared by countless others and have been “washed” by a quick rinse in unboiled, cold water, already dirty from previous dishes.

Nope; not a moment of being sick since I arrived. Instead, I’m grounded with back pain. I’m hoping and praying that a day or two with no lifting or pounding will get me back to the drill sites again. Until then, paperwork and a writing project to focus on . . . though it’s a challenge to type lying down with a laptop on your chest. Just kidding. I can at least sit and type as long as I don’t move too quickly ☺

Ronald & Melba’s well

It’s Sunday morning and I’m pretty well recovered from 3 straight days of digging. The amount of work required to dig a hole to a depth of 165 feet or so is amazing. We dug through about 130 feet of hard clay and rock, along with another 35 feet or so of hard-packed sand. The hole is only about 3” wide at the bottom and maybe 6” – 8” at the top. The 1” diameter drill stem, filled with mud and water gets really heavy, especially once you get to a depth of over 100 feet. Now, to get a bit of a picture of how this works, you can see from the WFA website (http://waterforallinternational.org/default.aspx) that the drill stem is lifted by either a group of 4 “rowers” or occasionally by a motor driven rig; then the person holding the drill literally drives it into the hole so the drill bit can cut a bit more. The water displacement process brings the cuttings up through the drill stem and out the “cachucha” pipe at the top.

We’re drilling now where Melba and Ronald live as caretakers for the property owner, and will finish their well this coming Monday or Tuesday. They have 6 children and live in a “house” (about 10 ‘ x 20’) with a dirt floor, no doors on the 2 door openings, one bed and one platform on which all the kids sleep. The entire house is constructed of a single course of 1” x 8” boards, with pretty large gaps. A blue tarp covers the openings at night and when it gets really cold. The corrugated roof is full of holes, so I can’t imagine they don’t get wet when it rains.
All the cooking is done outside over an open fire, but let me tell you . . . Melba can cook! Other than at Terry’s house, I had the best food yet from Melba’s “kitchen!” We had meals of wild tapir (like a wild pig), which one of their dogs killed the previous night; another meal of fresh “tattoo,” which is very much like a Texas armadillo. I drank my first tamarind “refresco,” made from the tamarind tree in their yard.

The best part of the whole deal though, is making life-giving water available to Melba and Ronald (some of the poorest of the poor) in Jesus’ Name, so they don’t have “wheelbarrow-in” their water in jerry cans from another nearby property. Possibly for the first time in their lives, they will have sufficient water available to bathe regularly, for drinking and cooking – and to irrigate a family garden. This well will transform the way Ronald and Melba and their kids live! And I got to be a part of it!

By the way, these are photos of Hugo and Katarina’s completed well, and my new friend, Enrique!

Bolivia Well Clubs

I arrived in Bolivia on the 6th of July, with Sherry remaining at home in Huntington Beach. I’ll be here until the end of August and then she and I will be back together, hopefully never traveling solo again, at least not for these long periods. I’m working with an organization called Water For All (WFA), which is completely focused on getting safe water to the poorest of the poor. They operate on the basis of “well clubs,” where a group of 10 (or so) families each raise about $100, which is the complete cost for a well. This is an astonishingly low cost for a well, which can dramatically change the entire future of a family!

The wells are hand-dug and you can find quite a bit of information on the technology from the WFA website.

Here’s a snippet of how crazy the last couple of days has been as I joined a team starting a well club, where we’ll be digging 12 wells:

We got to the site early Wednesday morning and waited for the water tank to arrive so we could start digging. It finally arrived and as we started to use the water, I noticed this horrific odor! Turns out the tank had previously been used to spray a wicked insecticide to kill a worm that attacks corn or sorghum! But it was the only water available, so we started digging; all afternoon I did most of the actual drilling and got sprayed over and over with water and mud and insecticide! I was covered in it. There was no other way to get the mud off us, so we had to use the water to rinse. Nice, eh?

Since I wasn’t sure how clean the food would be, we had stopped at a market on the way so I could have some protein and at least a couple cans of clean food. However, the lady of the house (Katarina) had made me a bowl of lunch and set it out for me. Wondering what I should do, I remembered those verses where Jesus sent out the 70 two by two, telling them to take nothing for their journey, and to eat whatever was set before them. So I did. It was some kind of concoction with potatoes and macaroni, peas, carrots and a few morsels of meat, served over white rice. After lunch, we worked till almost dark and got the well dug to about 13.5 m (about 40 feet) deep. Dinner was exactly the same as lunch.

We (Sergio, one of the WFA guys and me) set up tents behind the hut, where we slept, each of us in our own tent. The wind blew all day and night – and then it started to rain in the evening. The temperature dropped pretty dramatically and my tent leaked – at first only a little, then dramatically. I had only a thin flannel “sleeping sac” and two thin blankets, all of which got wet. I can’t remember being so cold in my whole life! Almost everything I had got wet, including most of my clothes. All day Thursday, we huddled around a fire we made behind the hut, in a hole in the ground, trying to stay as much out of the wind as we could. It rained all day, far too cold and wet to work, so none of the club members arrived to work! We were stuck there, with no means of communication (no cell coverage) and the road too slimy and completely impassable without 4-wheel drive (the 4 wheel drive in WFA’s vehicle is broken). Breakfast was two pieces of stale bread and 2 small cups of coffee with too much sugar! Lunch was again the same thing as we ate the day before. Dinner, however, was different. Hugo, the husband of the couple we were staying with, killed an armadillo during the night and we had it for dinner! It was great, deep fried, a bit grisly, but tasted good :–)

One of the guys in the well club sort of took me under his wing. Finding that all my stuff was wet, he decided to help me move to a local adobe hut that was abandoned. It was about a 5-minute walk away from the place we are doing the wells. We carried my tent and all my wet clothes, set up the tent inside the abandoned adobe, then arranged poles attached to wires hanging from the ceiling, over which I was going to hang my wet clothes and blankets. When I got back to the hut where we were digging the well, Katarina and Sergio said I shouldn’t stay at the adobe. First, there is a house next door to the adobe, full of people who are gypsy-like, begging and stealing instead of working (they’re from a people-group called Cambas). They told me that within just an hour or two of having my stuff unguarded, they’d steal anything of value. Second, it is in the adobe walls where beetles live that cause Chaga’s Disease and bites from these bugs are common. I went back and got all my stuff. . .

Hugo and Katarina offered for us to sleep in their hut, which we did. The hut is about 10 feet wide by maybe 20 feet long, built out of scrap wood. The hut has a dirt floor, 2 “windows” and a wooden door that closed with a piece of twine. Inside were three twin beds, a few bags of grain and beans, all their clothing and a collection of what looked like junk from trash piles. It’s tragic; the two windows have partial screens, with about 1/3 of each of the windows wide open; the walls have boards missing and big gaps and holes everywhere else. The wind blew through it almost as though the walls weren’t even there! Hugo, Katarina and their baby (Edison) slept in one of the beds, Sergio slept in one and I slept in the other. Even with all my clothes on and several blankets over me, I was still cold – probably because everything was still a bit wet! Its interesting, they climb into bed with all the same clothes they wear all day, every day. As a side note, I ended up going from Tuesday until Friday with no bath and working hard, sweating, etc . . . Phewwww!

Its amazing the difference that water makes. You can just look at the way people live and know that their lives are unbelievably difficult. Katarina has to walk about a mile each way to a local school for water for their animas and for cooking; they never bathe! They have some pigs, sheep, chickens and cattle, but the cattle are out to pasture on a neighbor’s land (a local Mennonite community) because they can’t supply enough water for them. Once they get their well, they’ll be able to bring all their animals back and keep them healthy because they’ll be able to give them water. Water will also allow them to grow the food they need – both for themselves and for their animals. I’m astonished at how much of a life-changer a small well like this can be. Hugo told me, “without water, there is no life!”

I feel incredibly privileged to be able to participate in a process that dramatically changes the lives of folks like Hugo and Katarina. I’ll start another well club early next week – possibly tomorrow if the weather changes and warms up a bit!

Bolivia!

 

 

So the adventure continues. In grad school, part of my work in International
Development focused on what is called Appropriate Technology. My research led me to a process of hand-dug water wells that could be delivered for around $100. I wanted to know more about this amazing process and tracked down Terry Waller, the inventor of the technology and now the Director of Water For All, International. Terry has been a missionary in Bolivia for over 20 years, where he has dug over 2,000 of these wells and continues to hone the process. This past March, I went to San Angelo, TX (Terry’s US home) for a week-long training on these wells and was invited by Terry to join him in Bolivia where the technology actually started.

I leave early Monday July 5th and will return home at the end of August! If you want to check out where I’ll be, click on this link. We fly into Santa Cruz de la Sierra, then drive about 250 km NW to the village of San Julian, from which we’ll travel to rural villages, drilling wells. This location is between the Amazon Basin rainforest and the Andean highlands, working primarily with the Quechua people. I’m told we will have only dial-up access to the Internet while in San Julian, so I don’t know how often I’ll be able to update.

After my return to the States, Sherry and I will be considering, praying and wondering if perhaps the Lord would have us take this technology with us back to Africa. There is a Ugandan wells project developing now within Water For All, which would complement their existing Ethiopian work. The Ugandan project would be based in an area called Karamoja, in the northeast of Uganda, likely emanating from a city named Soroti. We’d love your thoughts and prayers!